What do we really know about US time zones?
History.com: When you run a railroad, you need to maintain a schedule, and that works a whole lot better when everyone agrees on what time it is — including stations in far-flung locations and, crucially, other railroad companies that are making schedules for trains on the same tracks you’re using. That’s why railroads led the charge when Britain got its towns and cities on the same clock by the 1840s, and it’s why the same thing happened in the United States about 40 years later. U.S. railroads got together in the 1880s and came up with a plan to divide the country into time zones and synchronize official clocks according to those divisions. The plan created the Eastern, Central, Mountain, and Pacific time zones that we still have today. It went into effect on November 18, 1883, with assistance from the U.S. Navy in syncing up clocks across the nation using a telegraph system. However, Congress didn’t get around around to codifying these railroad time zones into law until decades later, in 1918, when the time zone system was recognized in official legislation. Boundaries have changed significantly in some places (Detroit and Florida were both once on Central Time), but the basic concept is the same.
In the U.S. we are fairly simple, basically four with Alaska and Hawaii. But what our Russian friends?
When I traveled on the Trans Siberian Railway, I learned they only use one time zone, across ELEVEN times zones. Everything Railway related is set to Moscow at GMT +3 hours. It gets confusing to say the least. I tried to meet someone in Novosibirsk at 11am. When I calculated the time from Yekaterinburg, I forgot to change AM to PM. I looked rather silly, on the platform, waving a package of corn tortillas from America. I was looking for an ex-pat from Texas, now a vodka maker.
I finally got to the point where I calculated time differences for arrival and departure, regardless of time of day. It worked fairly well for the remainder of my trip. I also wore two watches, one with “local” time, and one with Moscow time.
Wanderlust says: Train staff also tend to work on Moscow time, although I have found that on the Chinese Trans-Mongolian train (003/004) there tend to be two guards, always one on duty and one off duty, possibly working around Chinese time.
On Russian trains there may only be one person, and they may share duties at stops with the person on duty in the next carriage. This means that they may want to inspect your compartment at a strange time of the day, or be getting some well earned rest when you are up and about and wanting someone to help you fix the samovar.
My suggested technique for coping with all this is to create a “third time zone”, as it is not possible to automatically detect and set the correct local time along the way (even if you had a GPS, there is no signal much of the time). Instead of the concept of local time, simply add an extra hour a day from leaving Moscow. I do this first thing in the morning every day, or at least until I am up to my destination time zone. It will be close to, if not exactly, local time.
However, since I started in Vladivostok instead of Moscow, I had to subtract an hour a day after leaving Vladivostok. During my stops, in Irkutsk, Lake Baikal, and Yekaterinburg, I had to use local time, and forget about Moscow time.
So, if you do this trip, not only do you have to contend with the Russian language and signage, but the dreaded time zone issue. It was a great trip, memorable in many ways, but the time zones drove me and others, even the Russians, totally crazed and bewildered!